Our old mate Ed Sorenson again provides some eyewitness insight into the way bush folk made and played their own music in the nineteenth century. In his Life in the Australian Backblocks (1911), he describes the farming custom of ‘corn-husking’, which is exactly what it sounds like, plus music and the opportunity for young couples to do some courting. At corn-husking concerts, or parties:
‘A farmer takes his family to a neighbour's tonight, and spends the evening (a farmer's evening runs to midnight) husking his corn. Next night the neighbour and his family return the visit, and on the following night, probably, some other farmer's barn is visited. This is the farmer's "at home" night, and for entertainment all the gossip of the district is ventilated, yarns are told, and songs are sung—while working; Sarah Jones's engagement with Jim Smith is announced, and all the remarkable and unremarkable incidents in the lives of the old people are aired—an interesting jumble of gold-digging, blacks, and bushrangers.’
Amongst all this gossiping, yarning and music-making:
‘The young folks enjoy these parties; the work is much more pleasant, and time doesn't drag. But the system is not followed to any great extent. There is too much talking for the average farmer (a lot of people can't work and talk, and some can't work and listen), and too much time is lost tramping to and fro, while the young people get playing and giggling. Many a courtship has started at those husking parties, and many a union could be traced back to the sly hand-clasps and squeezes when fumbling for cobs.’
As far as the courting and cuddling opportunities went, according to Sorenson, ‘a husking party offers many advantages over the bush dance.’
Surely, people were listening to the music, weren’t they?